Editorial: Skip Norman. Testimonies

The first part of Rosa Mercedes 03 was dedicated to Skip Normans personal testimonials and other texts of his own making. In this second part, “Testimonies,” we widen the scope to include recollections of some of his friends, allies, and colleagues—more polyphony to accompany Skip Norman’s voice.

On the occasion of an archival project celebrating fifty years of “Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin” (dffb) in 2016, Gerd Conradt wrote a comprehensive essay on his friend and fellow student who had passed away in March 2015. His text “Black and White, Unite! Unite!” which Ted Fendt translated to English, retraces Skip Norman’s biography, vividly evoking some of their shared experiences at film school and attending to Norman’s prolific work as a cinematographer. Conradt also recalls their meeting in Northern Cyprus in 2002, where Norman had moved to teach photography and Visual Anthropology and where they had a filmed conversation about their friendship with fellow student Holger Meins.

Carlos Bustamante, a dffb student in 1967, was the cinematographer for Blues People (1968), one of Skip Norman’s student films that made a splash at the International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen and controversy entailed, due to its explicit depiction of sexuality. Both had met each other shortly before this collaboration, a film loosely based on LeRoi Jones’ (Amiri Baraka’s) play Dutchman and borrowing its title from Jones’ 1963 book Blues People: Negro Music in White America. In a long conversation that took place in the summer of 2020, Bustamante recalls his encounters and collaborations with Norman between 1967 and 2006.

Thanks to Johannes Beringer’s generosity and support, we are able to include his two short films made at dffb, Das Zimmer (The Room, 1966–67) and Situationen (Situations, 1967). In both of them, Skip Norman was involved either in the camera work (as the cinematographer or camera assistant) or as a performer; the latter, Situationen, includes a memorable scene in Gerd and Lena Conradt’s loft, where Günter Peter Straschek, Holger Meins, and Conradt discuss the agenda of a political cinema while Skip Norman (along with Lena Conradt and the child) sits by them silently.

Apart from the two longer contributions and Beringer’s films, we compiled other, shorter memories that relate to different phases of Skip Norman’s life and work. Beringer’s and Helke Sander’s testimonies reveal more about his specific position in Berlin in the late 1960s until the mid-70s, while Georg Lehner worked with Skip Norman (and Carlos Bustamante) on his WDR production Zwei kluge Männer und die Treue einer Frau (1973).

In their audio recorded conversation—in this case: literally two more voices to listen to—Shirikiana and Haile Gerima, eminent filmmakers, political and cultural activists, take us back to the second half of the 1970s, when Norman had left Berlin to return to Washington, DC. They recall his committed relationship with the students at Howard University where he taught cinematography, and the shooting of Gerima’s Wilmington 10 – USA 10.000 (1978), a film about the incarceration of the “Wilmington Ten,” nine young men and one woman, nearly all of them black, who had been wrongfully convicted in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1971 and had to serve long prison sentences.

In the late 1970s, Skip Norman embarked on a new academic journey. At Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, he started a BA in German which was followed by a MA in Cinema, and an interdisciplinary PhD in Anthropology, Sociology, Photography, and Cinema. Filmmaker Klaus Wyborny remembers some brief encounters at Ohio State University. The urban landscape of Columbus, Ohio is also the subject of a series of photographs that Skip Norman sent to his friend Carlos Bustamante in 1982.

It was not easy to get hold of an email address of Michelle Parkerson, but eventually, we succeeded in contacting her. Parkerson directed, amongst many other films, the award-winning documentary A Litany For Survival: the Life and Work of Audre Lorde in 1995 (available via Third World Newsreel). She had worked with Skip Norman in the late 1970s. On March 20, she replied: “I didn’t know him well, but enjoyed working with him. My memories of Skip are fading—just the brief time in 1979 when he worked as one of many great cameramen for my first documentary feature on jazz vocalist Betty Carter, … But Then, She’s Betty Carter,” a film distributed by “Women Make Movies.”

In the section “Documents” that runs parallel to the various parts of Rosa Mercedes 03, we republish the cover of the issue 5 of the pioneering feminist journal Frauen und Film, founded in 1974 by Helke Sander. It features a collage by the photographer and artist Brigitte Tast. The incident which is ironically depicted on it is the subject of the accompanying editorial of the magazine.

***

For issue 03 of Rosa Mercedes, we decided to proceed step by step, slowly expanding our focus. In the upcoming parts of the journal, we will shift our attention to some of the larger contexts in which Skip Norman’s own filmwork as a director evolved between 1966 and 1970; then zoom in on the films themselves, and finally highlight his work as a photographer, visual anthropologist and teacher.

We would like to thank all the authors and interlocutors as well as Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Claudia Lenssen, Louis Massiah, Michelle Parkerson, Brigitte Tast, and Debra Zimmerman for their help and support.

 

Madeleine Bernstorff and Volker Pantenburg, April 2021

 

Imprint: Rosa Mercedes 03/B, “Skip Norman: Testimonies”

Research Team: Madeleine Bernstorff, Elsa de Seynes, Kodwo Eshun, Tom Holert, Brigitta Kuster, Pascal Maslon, Doreen Mende, Volker Pantenburg, Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe

Editors: Madeleine Bernstorff, Volker Pantenburg

Production: Harun Farocki Institut

Managing Editor: Pascal Maslon

Translation: Ted Fendt, Volker Pantenburg (“Cover Image”)

Proofreading: Mandi Gomez

Thanks to Skip Norman’s family, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb), Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Johannes Beringer, Michael Biron, Carlos Bustamante, Gerd Conradt, Shirikiana and Haile Gerima, Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Georg Lehner, Claudia Lenssen, Louis Messiah, Michelle Parkerson, Elsa Rassbach, Helke Sander, Brigitte Tast, Klaus Wyborny, and Debra Zimmerman.

We have made every effort to clarify all rights of use with regard to the publication of the images and texts used here. In a few cases, despite intensive research, we have not been able to clarify the rights holders. Please contact the Harun Farocki Institut in case of any legal claims.

Wir haben uns bemüht, alle Nutzungsrechte bezüglich der Veröffentlichung der hier verwendeten Bilder und Texte zu klären. In wenigen Fällen ist es uns trotz intensiver Recherche nicht gelungen, die Rechteinhaber zu klären. Bitte wenden Sie sich bei etwaigen Rechtsansprüchen an das Harun Farocki Institut.

 

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April 30th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B
Interface

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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